Day 6 (continued)
We cross the border, show our passport to first one, then the next border guard and step out of the European Union. Cycling straight into the first village, we see differences right away. Serbia is a lot less developed than Hungary, buildings are older, there are more people out on the street and they are actually speaking to one another. There are benches outside every house and shop where people sit under trees and shelter from the heat. Somehow, the moment we step over the border it’s 5 degrees hotter. I’m sure the weather isn’t supposed to take notice of human-created borders, but here it really does seem to.
We lost the route. Eurovelo signs change from a very distinctive yellow square, to a much less distinctive narrow blue rectangle with no warning once you cross the border. Without a map, currency or any basic vocabulary of this new land, we decided to cycle to the next big town, use the internet and find a place to stay.
The next big town is Sombor. Everyone is staring at us. At first this makes us extremely nervous, but then people start to come and talk to us and ask us where we’re from, where we’re traveling to, wish us luck on our journey, ask what do we think of their little town (we like it very much), would we like to come to their children’s birthday party and have they seen Sam on television?
On the way into town we passed a sign with a picture of a tent at a place called Bakin Salaš. I went in to ask for prices but nobody was home. We decide to return after a celebratory beer and see if they are back. Four pints of beer and four packets of crisps cost about 6 euros. Things seem a lot cheaper here. A loaf of bread is about 40p.
Bakin Salaš is beautiful. The lawn is freshly mown under the small apple trees in the back yard, the window shutters have little hearts cut out of the wood, the dog is extremely friendly and welcomes us with a wagging tail and wet tongue – but he is the only one home. Well, he says we can stay, so we decide it will be fine. We put our tents up under a nice tree and go to bed.
We awake on a beautiful morning, take our tents down and pack our bags. We load up our bikes. As if on cue, a car arrives. Uh oh, I hope it’s ok that we stayed here. The man drives over to us and gets out. He shakes my hand immediately. “Hello, good morning,” he says, “you stayed here last night?” “Um.. yes. We hope that’s ok. We looked around and knocked on the windows but we couldn’t see anyone to ask. How much do you charge for a night?” He waves his hand dismissively, “no charge. Come back next time.” “Oh wow, thank you so much…” “No problem. You want some domestic juice?” “Some what?” He unlocks the door of the house, takes out a small table and begins arranging chairs around it. “Sit here,” he says. We sit. He brings out a bottle of his homemade peach juice and we all sit and drink it. It’s delicious and I tell him so. He shrugs. “It’s domestic juice.”
I am in love with Serbia.
The river is pink. I’m sitting on a rock right next to it, with Sam on a rock to my right cooking up pasta in the Trangia. We have found the most secluded spot ever and can relax. The tents are up; I have just gathered some nettles to put in our dinner; something is chirruping away to my left. Opposite on the other bank of the Danube I can see a sandy beach. That’s Croatia that is – looks nice!
We came a long way today: 70km. Sam is very happy about it and in a good mood generally. She didn’t have a very good day yesterday and it’s nice to see her smiling again.
My wrists hurt a lot today, my bum and “lady bits” (thanks to Beth for that term), too. Sam thinks I might have RSI. We still have a way to go, but can have a couple of days rest in Novi Sad (I hope) and recover a bit before the last stretch to Belgrade. I hope my wrists get better.
Memorable things about today: the woman who gave us water in the shop in Novo Selo; the nothing town of Z_ and the man in the coach depot (the only thing there) who gave us the yellow water that we don’t really want to drink.
Last night we slept by some bees, not by a hunting lodge. The hunting lodge looked like an attractive place to sleep next to, until we realised that it was in fact a hunting lodge. Clues included meat hooks and skeletons. There was nobody else there, so for a while it looked as though we might have unwittingly stepped into the set of a horror film. I’m sure I heard creepy music while looking in the window. We made a hasty retreat and ended up putting our tents up in a clearing behind the bees, which are in big wagons with lots of hives like drawers in the sides. You can see them all along our route. The dike road we are following is used a lot by shepherds and beekeepers, but we see a lot of wildlife too, like deer, a hare, lots of herons, frogs (mostly flat), a really beautiful rare butterfly that I can’t remember the name of, birds of prey… We have also seen lots and lots of cows, sheep, horses and goats, often with little ones.
After an epic 85km+ bike ride, we have arrived in Novi Sad. I’m waiting with a beer for our host to arrive in a square in the centre of town. Sam has gone in search of emergency falafel, which may well not exist. It’s just gone half past seven, which I feel is a perfectly respectable time to arrive in a city. Today was nice. Highlights include the opera singing strimmer and small crowd that gathered around us in___ , trying to give us directions and even sending a man on his bike to show us the way, despite the fact that we weren’t lost and knew perfectly well where we were going; the woman in the shop in Bačka Palanka who couldn’t resist popping a few sweets in the bag with the bread we bought from her; the man and woman in tourist info who let me use their internet and printed directions to Novi Sad for us, although we didn’t need them and didn’t ask; the man in the bike shop in the same town who insisted on fitting my new bike horns (to combat the wrist problems) for me and who gave Sam her metal tire levers for free; all of the frowning men who smiled and waved when they saw us; all of the people who tried to give us directions even though we were never lost and couldn’t understand them anyway…
How strange to be in a city again. Women with their over-styled peroxide curls and fashion magazine makeup, big posh shops, tourists and gypsy kids demanding money with a scowl. I still notice people looking at us, and there’s still a half-smile if you catch their eye in the right way, but we’re much less of a curiosity here than in the country.
Belgrade is now under 100km away. It will be around 95km from our hosts house, over the river in Petrovaradin. We are flirting with – nay, courting – the idea of doing it all in one day. We would both like a couple of full days here first, which is good as my wrists are in need of a break.
Novi Sad, 29-30th April
There’s an emerging art scene, but no anarchist scene to speak of. I found CK13, the centre listed in the World Contacts list at the back of my Slingshot diary, but actually it’s more of a youth and cultural centre than a hive of political activity – despite the fact that Antifa and a lesbian group both meet there. The girls I spoke to in the office told me they are keen to have an anti-right-wing stance in the place, but when I asked what else was going on in town, they pointed out lots of art bars and galleries on my map. There’s a punk gig tomorrow night though and Sam wants to go.
Happycow shows us Ananda, the only vegetarian restaurant in town. I’m surprised to find that 80% of the menu is vegan and includes falafel, raw food energy balls for under 60p each and a selection of teas to rival the hippiest English cafe.
A bimble about town, a nice art gallery/museum, a veggie cafe and a cultural centre. It’s a nice town, but not much is happening. I avoid getting my bike nicked by kids, get given free popcorn (there are popcorn stalls everywhere), get lost, find my way again, speak to strangers and head back “home” to Aleksa’s.
Aleksa is our host. We cycled across town with him and were greeted warmly by his father and mother waiting for us at the house. Despite the fact that his mother no longer lives with them she turned up to greet us and made us a huge pot of vegan soup, for which we were very grateful.
Aleksa and I get along very well and spend the whole of my last day in Novi Sad in a long conversation which begins with him telling me about Serbian and Yugoslavian history, his first hand account of the Nato bombings in 1999 and then meanders it’s way around personal experiences shared with depression, alcoholism and dodgy relationships, yearnings for travel, sexuality, gender, music and cravings for wildness. I have made a friend.